Bolesław IV the Curly

"Bolesław IV of Poland" redirects here. For the 15th-century prince of Masovia, see Bolesław IV Warszawski.
Bolesław IV the Curly

19th century portrait by Jan Matejko
High Duke of Poland
Tenure 11461173
Predecessor Władysław II the Exile
Successor Mieszko III the Old
Duke of Masovia
Tenure 11381173
Predecessor new creation
Successor Leszek
Duke of Silesia
Tenure 11461163
Predecessor Władysław II the Exile
Successor Bolesław I the Tall
Duke of Sandomierz
Tenure 11661173
Predecessor Henry
Successor Casimir II the Just
Born c. 1125
Died 5 January 1173 [aged 48]
Spouse Viacheslava of Novgorod
Issue With Viacheslava:
Leszek, Duke of Masovia
House Piast dynasty
Father Bolesław III Wrymouth
Mother Salomea of Berg

Bolesław IV the Curly (Polish: Bolesław Kędzierzawy) (ca. 1125 – 5 January 1173) of the Piast dynasty was Duke of Masovia from 1138 and High Duke of Poland from 1146 until his death.

He was the third son of Duke Bolesław III Wrymouth of Poland by his second wife Salomea, daughter of the Swabian count Henry of Berg. The death of his older brothers, Leszek and Casimir, before 1131 and in October 1131, respectively, left him as the eldest son of their parents.


Bolesław III's Testament and inheritance of the Masovian Province

Bolesław was 13 years old at the time of his father's death (1138) and of the legal age to take on the government of the lands he inherited according to his father's testament, the newly created Duchy of Masovia (composed of Masovia and eastern Kuyavia). Because his main domain was Masovia, the prince was called Bolesław of Masovia.

In the first years of his government, young Bolesław remained under the strong influence of his mother Salomea and the Voivode Wszebor, who feared the ambition of his elder half-brother High Duke Władysław II (the first-born son of the late duke by his first wife Zbyslava of Kiev). Władysław II tried to restore the unity of the country and deposed the Junior Dukes.

First Part of the conflict with High Duke Władysław II

The disputes with the High-Duke began openly in 1141, when the Dowager Duchess Salomea -without the consent of High Duke Władysław II-, organized a meeting with her sons at her residence in Łęczyca. Here was decided the betrothal of her youngest daughter Agnes with Mstislav II of Kiev, a scion of the Rurik Dynasty — in order to gain allies in a possible conflict — and the division of the Łęczyca lands between Salomea's sons upon her death. However, the Junior Dukes in this first struggle were definitely defeated, because the Kievan Grand Prince Vsevolod II decided to make an alliance with Władysław II, reinforced by the marriage of Vsevolod's daughter Zvenislava with the High Duke's eldest son Bolesław I the Tall. An additional humiliation for Bolesław IV and his brothers was that they were sent by the High Duke on an expedition to the Kievan Rus' as ambassadors during 1142–1143.

The "peace" lasted only two years until 1144 when, after Salomea's death and according to the Bolesław III's Testament, the Łęczyca province reverted to the Seniorate Province of High Duke Władysław II. The idea to reserve the lands for his minor brothers Henry and Casimir II was not popular with Wladyslaw, who thought that the land was only temporarily separated from his Dzielnica senioralna and now in its entirety should be returned. Outbreak of civil war was therefore only a matter of time.

The war erupted with full force in 1145, and it seemed that the Junior Dukes were defeated and the High Duke finally achieved the unification of the country. At first the combined forces of Bolesław IV and his brothers prevented the disaster and demanded a hasty reorganization of the forces of Władysław at the Battle on the Pilicą River. The major significance of this battle was to the former voivode Wszebor, whose military experience far exceeded the ability of Władysław's commanders. Soon, however, the situation was totally reversed as a result of the Kievan troops who entered in the country as Władysław's allies. Bolesław then had to agree to step down and renounce any pretension over the lands belonging to his mother.

The concessions of the Junior Dukes ultimately didn't resolve the problem. Moreover, Władysław's confidence in his forces had him embark on a final solution, the removal of his stepbrothers from their lands. Suddenly, the Junior Dukes could rely on the support of the High Duke's all-powerful voivoide Piotr Włostowic, for whom Władysław's plans were too radical and threatened to weaken his position. While Władysław opted for a quick response against him (the voivode was blinded and muted), forcing Włostowic to go to Kiev, the High Duke's final decision on his confrontation with the voivode considerably weakened his position. What's more, Włostowic convinced the Kievans to break his alliance with Władysław.

Władysław II is expelled from the country. Bolesław IV, High Duke of Poland

At the beginning of 1146 the rebellions against Władysław's government rose mighty, sparked by the fate of Piotr Włostowic. Nevertheless, the final victory of Władysław seemed likely, especially after the conquest of Masovia (forcing Bolesław to escape) and the siege of Poznań in Greater Poland in the spring of 1146. However, thanks to the rebellion in Władysław's own lands, and the excommunication imposed to him by the Archbishop of Gniezno, the High Duke suffered an unexpected defeat. Władysław and his family had to flee across the border with the Holy Roman Empire, at first to Bohemia and later to Germany, accommodated by King Conrad III.

The Junior Dukes reassigned the Polish provinces between them. The Duchy of Silesia and the Seniorate Province at Kraków were taken by Bolesław, who also received the title of High Duke, the western Duchy of Greater Poland was retained by his brother Mieszko III, and Henry finally received his long-promised Land of Sandomierz. Casimir II, the youngest brother, again remained without lands.

Expedition of King Conrad III of Germany and recognition of the authority of the Junior Dukes

Thanks to the intrigues of his wife Agnes of Babenberg, a half-sister of King Conrad III, Władysław II succeeded in convincing his brother-in-law to make a military expedition to Poland. The hastily organized expedition however clashed with the reluctance of the former subjects of the deposed High Duke, and was finally defeated already on the Polish border near the Oder river in August 1146.

In subsequent years, Bolesław IV along with his younger brothers bellows sought to maintain good relations with the royal House of Hohenstaufen, Władysław's allies. To this end, in 1148 the Junior Dukes organized a meeting in Kruszwica, to which they invited the warlike Margrave Albert the Bear of the German Northern March (the later Margraviate of Brandenburg), who had reached the Polish border in the course of the Wendish Crusade. There, Bolesław arranged the marriage of his sister Judith with the margrave's son Otto. Boleslaw and Mieszko also militarily supported the Germans in the fight against the reluctant West Slavic Lutici tribes, considerably contributing to the stability of German domination over the middle Spree region. The second important ally of the Piast prince was the Wettin margrave Konrad of Meissen.

Initially, Bolesław also had a difficult relationship with another opposing force policy like the Hohenstaufens: the Roman Curia under of Pope Eugene III. At first in 1147 the Papal legate Humbold recognized Bolesław as the new High Duke and overlord of Poland. However, one year later, and again instigated by the intrigues of Władysław's wife Agnes, the newly Papal legate Guy arrived to the country in connection with the refusal to restore the former High Duke, and declared the ban over Poland. The penalty, thanks for the cohesive support of the Polish church hierarchy by the Junior Dukes, was virtually without repercussions.

Expedition of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to Poland. The final recognition of the authority of Bolesław IV

Things worsened for Bolesław in 1157, when King Conrad's nephew Frederick Barbarossa, crowned Emperor by Pope Adrian IV in 1155, decided to make a new expedition to Poland, thanks to the ongoing pressures by his aunt Agnes, Władysław's wife. This time the campaign was well organized, and the Emperor was well determined to force Bolesław IV to accept his own conditions. It's unknown why Bolesław opted for a highly security tactics of war, not defending the swampy areas in front of the middle Oder river, which was for centuries the natural defense of Poland, nor the strongholds of Głogów and Bytom in Silesia. The Imperial army quickly advanced and soon laid siege to Poznan.

Given the difficult situation, Bolesław was forced to accept the humiliating negotiations and in a shameful ceremony on 30 August 1157, was declared a vassal of the Empire at his camp in Krzyszkowo. Bolesław was in his knees and beg for forgiveness to the Emperor, in return for which he kindly received from Barbarossa the further control over the Polish lands; also, he had to pay an enormous tribute to Emperor. For unknown reasons however, despite Barbarossa's victory, Władysław II to his great disappointment was not restored in the Polish throne. Bolesław formally swore loyalty to the Emperor on Christmas Day in Magdeburg, and gave his younger brother, Casimir II, as a hostage. Two years later Władysław died in exile, having never returned to his country again.

Return of Władysław II's sons to Silesia

Not before 1163 the sons of the late Władysław, Bolesław I the Tall and Mieszko IV Tanglefoot, backed by the Emperor insisting on the agreement made with Bolesław IV, were restored in their Silesia heritage; but this return didn't affect the power of Bolesław as a High Duke and overlord of Poland. Thanks to its German affinities, the senior branch of the Silesian Piasts at least managed to retain its Silesian lands (Wrocław, Legnica, Głogów, Opole and Racibórz) without problems.

Crusade against the Prussians

Following the defeat by the German forces, Bolesław initiated a bold plan for the conquest of the pagan Prussians, settling beyond the northeastern Polish border along the Baltic coast. This concept of an early Prussian Crusade was conceived in view of the repeated seizures by more and more Baltic tribes in the several districts of Bolesław's Masovian province. The High Duke proclaimed a "crusade" against the pagans and pressured the collaboration of both the Pope and the Emperor. The whole efforts and attempts to acquire these province were finally defeated in 1166. Furthermore, during one of the battles the younger brother of the High Duke, Henry of Sandomierz, was killed.[1]

Rebellion of Casimir II the Just. Relations with the Silesian Dukes

After Henry's death, against the dispositions of the Bolesław III's Testament, the High Duke incorporated Sandomierz into the Seniorate Province. This caused the anger and frustration of his youngest brother, Casimir II the Just, who was the next in line to inherit the lands and was the only of Bolesław III' sons still without any land.

Casimir was supported in his rebellion by his elder brother Duke Mieszko III the Old of Greater Poland, the magnate Jaksa of Miechów and Sviatoslav, son of Voivode Piotr Włostowic, as well as the Archbishops of Gniezno and Kraków; also, almost all Leeser Polish nobility was on his side. In February 1168 the rebels gathered in Jędrzejów, and there they proclaimed Mieszko III as the new High Duke and Casimir was formally invested with Sandomierz. But at the end Bolesław maintained his rule by largely accepting the demands of rebels; he divided late Henry's duchy in three parts: the lands of Wiślica were granted to Casimir, Bolesław himself obtained Sandomierz proper and the rest passed to Mieszko III.

After the disaster of the Prussian Crusade, the Silesian dukes Bolesław I the Tall and Mieszko IV Tanglefoot attempted to dethrone the High Duke and to recover the Seniorate Province and thereby the Polish overlordship. Bolesław's reprisal expedition in the following year ended with a total disaster, so the High Duke eventually had to reconcile with his Silesian nephews.

In 1172 Duke Mieszko III rebelled again; this time supporting his grandnephew Jarosław of Opole (the eldest son of Bolesław I the Tall), who, forced to become a priest in his early years, was barred from the Silesian succession. Unsatisfied with this, Jarosław tried to gain power and obtain his own lands. The support of this rebellion was so strong, that his father was forced to escape to Erfurt. This originated another expedition in his aid by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who again invaded Poland and defeated the rebels. The High Duke ordered Mieszko III to Magdeburg where peace was made with the Empire after the payment of 8,000 pieces of silver and the Silesian duchy was again granted to Bolesław I the Tall at the Emperor's mercy; despite his victory, the High Duke finally accepted the autonomy of his Silesian nephews.

Shortly afterwards another rebellion took place, this time of the Lesser Polish nobles, who were extremely dissatisfied with the harsh and dictatorial High Duke's government. The rebels invited Casimir II, then Duke of Wiślica, to take the Kraków throne, but Bolesław's resistance against his younger brother was so strong that both parties made concessions, who led finished with any riots until the end of the High Duke's reign. Casimir succeeded Bolesław in Sandomierz upon his death in 1173 and became High Duke four years later.

Relations with the Church

Bolesław was also known for his many gifts and grants to the Church. Particularly enriched thanks to him, among others were: the Church of St. Mary and St. Catherine and of St. Vincent near Wrocław, the Benedictine monastery in Trzemeszno and the Collegiate church in Tum near Łęczyca. Around 1151 he founded the Canonical Regular Kolegiata in Czerwińsk.

Marriages and Issue

In 1137 Bolesław married firstly with Viacheslava (b. ca. 1125 – d. 15 March ca. 1162?), daughter of St. Vsevolod, Prince of Novgorod and Pskov. They had three children:

  1. Bolesław (b. 1156 – d. 1172)
  2. A daughter (b. ca. 1160 – d. aft. 1178), married ca. 1172/73 to Vasilko Iaropolkovich, Prince of Shumsk and Dorohychyn.
  3. Leszek (b. ca. 1162 – d. 1186).

After the death of his first wife, Bolesław married with a woman called Maria (d. aft. 1173), whose origins are disputed. This union was childless.[2]

Bolesław's eldest son died in 1172 aged sixteen and reportedly the High Duke was devastated by his death. He was succeeded in the Masovian-Kujavian principality by his second and only surviving son Leszek, at the age of eleven or less. As overlord and holder of Kraków and Gniezno, he however was succeeded by his next brother Mieszko III the Old, Duke of Greater Poland.


See also


  1. D von Güttner-Sporzyński, Constructing memory: holy war in the Chronicle of the Poles by Bishop Vincentius of Cracow, Journal of Medieval History 40 (3), 2014, pp. 276-291.
  2. Earlier historians believed that Leszek was born of Bolesław IV's second marriage, but after the discovery of coins where Leszek called himself son of Anastasia (Greek of Latin equivalent of Bolesław IV's first wife name) this theory proved to be inaccurate. Borys Paszkiewicz, O matce Lestka Bolesławica i początkach mennictwa mazowieckiego, Przegląd Historyczny, vol. 92 (2001), pp. 1-14.

Further reading

Bolesław IV the Curly
Born: ca. 1125 Died: 5 January 1173
Preceded by
new creation
Duke de Masovia and Kuyavia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Władysław II
Duke of Silesia
Succeeded by
Bolesław I the Tall and
Mieszko I Tanglefoot
High Duke of Poland
Succeeded by
Mieszko III the Old
Preceded by
Duke of Sandomierz
Succeeded by
Casimir II the Just
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